Please do not put your children on a diet.
As a parent myself, I get it. We want the best for our kids. We worry about our children. When we think that there could be something wrong with our child, we want to do whatever we can to fix it. That’s what being a parent is all about.
If you are a parent of a child living in a larger body, you’ve most likely been told that your child should lose weight. You may have been told this by a well-meaning doctor, friend, or family member. You may have read about the dangers of “obesity” in the news or seen advertising that shows children in fat bodies who look sad and despondent. You worry about the health conditions that your child may develop. You worry about bullying that your child may endure. You worry about your child’s self-esteem and the possibility of developing mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
We are told that the answer is simple. Eat less and exercise more. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Less cookies and chips. No juice or soda.
You feel the nasty stares that you get when you walk down the street, the judgment in people’s faces when you check-out at the grocery store with a box of fruit loops or a pack of juice boxes. Can you really be a good mother or father if your child is fat?
Wanting your child to lose weight is a totally natural response to the weight-obsessed fatphobic culture that we live in. We want our children to fit in. To be happy and healthy. And we are taught that the good things in life are only accessible to those who are thin.
But, despite all of our good intentions, putting your child on a diet or focusing on weight loss is one of the most destructive things that we can do for our children’s health and wellbeing. Encouraging our children to lose weight sends them the message that there is something wrong with their bodies, that they are not good enough as they currently are. And this can set the stage for a lifelong struggle with food and body image. As a psychologist specializing in eating disorders and disordered eating, I see this story every day in my office. Adults who have spent too much of their lives fighting against themselves, not participating fully in the world, hating themselves, all because they believed that their body was not good enough. I can’t imagine that this is the fate that any of us want for our children.
What if instead of trying to change our children’s bodies to be more acceptable in our culture, we tried to change our culture to become more accepting of all bodies? What if instead of teaching our kids that there is something wrong with their bodies, we taught them that there is something wrong with our culture? And that they—and we—have the power to change it.